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This Business Brief provides additional information that may be helpful for Discussion Board
Activities or to clarify students' questions.
Money makes the world go round, they say. Perhaps it is even truer that the world makes money
go round, especially in an era of globalisation when capital can flow freely to and from almost
everywhere. Money is always looking for places where it will be most profitable and earn the
greatest return on investment.
As an individual, you can put your money on deposit in a bank, and as long as the bank doesn't
fail and the economy keeps functioning, you will get interest. Your money is loaned out to
people, businesses, and governments who need it to finance their own projects, perhaps like the
ones in some unit case studies, and the bank will make its money on the difference between what
it pays out in interest on deposits and what it gets in interest from its loans.
If you want to live more dangerously you could buy some bonds, and as long as the organisation
or country you've invested in by lending it money doesn't default, you will get your interest
payments and later your bonds will eventually be repaid. To live even more dangerously, buy
some shares and share in the profitability of your chosen company. In good times, the dividends
will be more than what you would get from bonds, and the shares themselves will increase in
value, giving you a capital gain if you sell them. But if the company runs into trouble and goes
bankrupt, you will be among the last to be paid back and you may get only part of what you put
in or you may lose all your money.
This illustrates the trade-off between risk and return. The higher the risk of your investment not
being repaid, the more you will want it to pay back in return on investment. Venture capitalists
will invest in many different start-ups, knowing that most will fail, but that a few will do
reasonably well and one or two will, with luck, hit the jackpot, paying back all the money they
lost on unprofitable projects and much more.
From the point of view of investors, the world's financial markets exist in order to channel
money to profitable investment activities and projects. From the point of view of borrowers such
as companies and governments, financial centres exist so that they can find capital on the best
Most investors are not private individuals but institutions like banks, insurance companies,
mutual funds (unit trusts in the UK), and pension funds who may, of course, be investing the
money of private individuals indirectly. The markets they invest in include the money and
currency markets, stock markets for shares (also known as equities), commodities markets for
anything from gold to pork bellies (used for making bacon), and property (buildings and land).
There are also markets for futures in currencies, equities, bonds, and commodities. A future is a
fixed-price contract to buy a certain amount of something for delivery at a fixed future date.
There are markets for options in currencies, equities, and bonds. Here, an investor buys the right
to buy or sell a certain amount of these things at a price and particular date in the future. This is a
form of betting on how prices will move.
Some of these markets, like stock markets, are based in particular buildings, some with trading
floors, but most trading is now screen- and telephone-based. Others, like bond and currency
markets, are "virtual", in the sense that selling and trading takes place by phone and computer
between the premises of issuers, brokers, and traders. A broker is an intermediary between an
issuer of securities such as bonds, of a property, etc., and potential investors. With Big Bang
deregulation, many brokers of securities are also traders, having their own supplies of securities
to sell, and make money on trading or dealing, hence the term "securities house."
Central banks like the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are crucial for financial
centres because they set basic interest rates (the price of money), and control money supply (the
amount of money circulating in an economy). Both of these controls have an enormous effect on
the economy as a whole and on the financial markets, even if the link of cause and effect
between the fundamentals of the real economy and the financial markets is not always clear.